WASHINGTON — Since Bill Cassidy was elected to Congress four years ago, the Republican physician has held the Baton Rouge region as his own.
But now the residents of Baton Rouge are asking him a new question, “People approach me and say, ‘Who’s my congressman?’ ” Cassidy said.
The answer is no longer so simple, but Cassidy said he gives the same answer regardless — “I don’t care where you live; I will represent you.”
That is because next month Baton Rouge officially will have two congressmen representing the region, thanks to congressional redistricting.
Northern Baton Rouge becomes part of the 2nd Congressional District which snakes all the way to New Orleans in order to carve out the state’s only “majority minority” district. A loss of population in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina caused a shift in district lines.
Cassidy continues to serve the 6th Congressional District that covers southern Baton Rouge, but now stretches down to St. Charles, Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, may hail from the 504 area code, but he will soon officially represent northern Baton Rouge, parts of Baker, portions of West Baton Rouge Parish and the River Parishes.
“I like the district,” Richmond said. “There are a lot of common issues.”
The 2nd district now makes up much of the Interstate 10 and Mississippi River corridor with all of its ports, oil-and-gas refineries and petrochemical facilities.
“The district represents the future of Louisiana,” Richmond said. “Put together, that’s the biggest port (complex) in the nation. It’s a super corridor.”
Richmond, who knows Baton Rouge well from his time serving in the state Legislature, may still maintain his base as New Orleans, but he said he plans to open a Baton Rouge office in the coming months. He also said he is talking to some state legislators about splitting time at some of their offices to develop a stronger River Parishes presence.
During his reelection campaign, Richmond said he did a lot of grassroots outreach in the Baton Rouge region to introduce himself to constituents and to help clear up confusion. “It’s about getting to know new people and getting reacquainted with other folks,” he said.
Although the people of Baton Rouge may take some time to adjust to having multiple congressmen, Richmond said he believes the split will serve the area well.
“The fact that you have two congressmen means a lot more for Baton Rouge than one,” Richmond said. “It’s two voices, two votes and two opportunities to deliver.
“With one that’s a Republican and one that’s a Democrat, you’re covered on both sides.”
Richmond, 39, is considered a potential rising star among U.S. House Democrats with his good looks, policy understanding and attorney training.
Cassidy, a 55-year-old physician, has made a name for himself with his wonkish focus on health care and public policy matters, while maintaining a possible eye on the Senate in 2014.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Baker, who represented the Baton Rouge area for more than 20 years until 2008, said he thinks the new division could benefit the area, but only if the congressmen work well together. “The most important obstacle about a split congressional play is that there be alignment between the two members,” Baker said.
They could end up offsetting each other if they have “conflicting goals,” Baker said. But, even if they are from different parties, they can really benefit the district if they put local projects and priorities first, he said.
“If that can be obtained, then it’s not detrimental and could, in fact, be beneficial I believe,” Baker said.
Southern University political scientist Albert Samuels largely agreed.
“It could potentially be good if, in fact, they actually work together,” Samuels said. “Theoretically, you have an extra voice speaking on your behalf.
“There is a partisan difference between the two of them, and one would hope they can find some issues that benefit Baton Rouge that aren’t defined by partisan differences,” Samuels said.
But there are concerns, Samuels said. The first issue is whether Richmond truly serves his full district and does not get bogged down just with New Orleans-centric issues.
“It is still a predominantly New Orleans district,” Samuels said, “so there’s a fear the folks in Baton Rouge (and River Parishes) could potentially get lost.”
The other issue is that Cassidy’s 6th district is redrawn in such a way that it is more staunchly conservative than before and lacks much minority representation, Samuels said.
“Their (northern Baton Rouge) concerns may not register with a South Baton Rouge congressman,” Samuels said.
Both congressmen could devolve into instances of telling each other, “That’s not my district, so that’s your problem,” Samuels said. But, hopefully, that will not occur, he added.
Richmond and Cassidy both say they are confident they will work well together and that they already have partnered in the past.
For instance, the two have teamed up in efforts to push for natural gas use as a transportation fuel, as an alternative over diesel fuels and gasoline, he said. Natural gas production has skyrocketed in Louisiana in recent years.
Richmond can help reach out to the Obama administration for matters pertaining to Louisiana and the Baton Rouge region, Cassidy said, while Cassidy is better suited for reaching out to the Republican leadership that controls the House.
So they can both make efforts in different ways with the same goals in mind, Cassidy said.
“He (Richmond) is incredibly professional, and we have a great relationship,” Cassidy said.
There is only one key point of division, Cassidy said, and that is Richmond starring for the Democrats for the past two years in victories in the congressional baseball game.